Heaven and Hell

Just too much. There was just too much in my head and in my heart. So I didn’t write anything.

It’s been nearly two weeks since the November 13 violence in Paris. I’d been on the brink of writing a blog post about I-can’t-remember-what now, it suddenly seemed off-base and inconsequential so I never wrote it; instead I started assembling thoughts to write after the Paris attacks…and quickly became overwhelmed with So. Much. Ugliness.

Everywhere – online, TV, newspapers, everywhere – a bombardment of ugliness and xenophobia and racism and fear and the mongering-of-fear and willful ignorance and the absolute trashing of values that are core to America (I say this as an American) and to Christianity (I say this as a Christian) and to reason (I say this as a person with a brain) and to compassion (I say this as a person with a beating heart).

And I confess with chagrin that I became so very weary, too weary to assemble thoughts to write about it all beyond the occasional brief Facebook share+comment. (First World problem, that’s for sure.) I still hope to…

And tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day here in the US.

What I can muster for this blog right now is gratitude for two stories.

The first is a story that has circulated widely for a long time…

…among storytellers, between cultures, online, in sermons and speeches. No one seems to know the original source of it…Chinese, Jewish, Muslim, Japanese, Hindu…even Ben Franklin. Perhaps you’ve heard some version of it – there are many. Here’s a short one:

There was once a righteous man to whom the Lord God granted a wish, anything he wanted. He wished to know the difference between Heaven and Hell.

The Lord God sent an angel who bade the man take hold of its robe. The moment the man did, he and the angel were transported to a huge, fine hall. Immediately the man’s nose was filled with an abundance of delicious aromas; his mouth began to water; his hand felt the soft wall tapestry against which he was leaning; and his eyes gazed upon table after table as far as he could see, each piled and laden with fine foods of every kind imaginable. But with his ears?-! – “Ohhhhhh, make it stop! Make it stop, please!” The air was filled with piteous crying and howling and groaning such as he had never imagined and could not bear to hear. And then he saw – Every single one of the people at the laden tables had braces on their arms so that they could not bend their elbows – and so could not feed themselves. The man then saw that they were gaunt and emaciated and in never-ending, moaning hunger. “Oh, Angel, this is Hell – take me away from here, now! Please!”

The angel held out its robe. The man touched it and they were transported – to another huge, fine hall, identical to the first. Immediately the man’s nose was again filled with delicious aromas, his mouth began to water, his hand touched the fine wall tapestry, and his eyes gazed upon table after table as far as he could see, laden with sumptuous foods of every kind imaginable. And with his ears… he heard the sounds of gentle laughter, of lively conversation, and of such sweet singing as he had never imagined and wished to listen to unendingly. And he saw – their faces were round and rosy and full of health and wholeness. Yet…every single one of the people at the laden tables, just as in the first hall, had braces on their arms so that they could not bend their elbows, and could not feed themselves. But in this place, with those braces holding their arms straight – they were reaching across.

They were feeding each other.  “This is Heaven.”

The 2nd story is accompanied by a profound video.

(I urge you to first take a moment, use the power of your imagination, and imagine yourself as having only – ONLY – the clothes you are wearing right now and whatever you are able to carry, for thousands of miles, in your own two hands. That’s all you have anymore. Period. No home. No bed. No toilet. No chair to sit on when you’re tired. You are no longer able to feed yourself, or protect or take care of yourself in any way at your home. [I’m not even asking you to imagine also having children with you, or elderly parents, or…]  Home has become “the mouth of a shark” so you HAVE to leave. To go. Go.  …Where? And how?)

I – an American Lutheran woman – urge you to read this story and watch the 2.5-minute video of an Austrian Jewish man reaching across and “feeding” Syrian Muslim refugees, one carload at a time.

Thanks for reading – Pam


The beautiful photograph at the top of this post was taken by my niece, Emily Cintora, who moved from Paris earlier in 2015 after having lived there for two years. I’m grateful to Emily for permission to use it.